Denard Robinson: Life past untied shoelaces

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Denard Xavier Robinson. Most college football followers know him as an NCAA file holder, proprietor of exhilarating spotlight reels, and the duvet athlete for one of many final nice soccer video video games of all time: NCAA Soccer 14. However the place is he now, and what occurred after his illustrious Michigan profession? Like many collegiate stars who noticed their halos dim within the execs, life occurred.

For Denard Robinson, success wasn’t assured; it was promised

Deerfield Seashore, Florida, isn’t recognized for its financial standing or low crime charges. As an alternative, it was a metropolis that provided Robinson and his six siblings a transparent image of their future in the event that they didn’t make the precise decisions. A future riddled with medicine, poverty, and hardship. So, at a younger age, Robinson and his brother Timothy swore they might emerge from their poisonous surrounding and supply for his or her household.

Timothy was a tricky child, partly why Robinson admired him. The 2 would line up throughout from one another within the entrance yard of their dwelling and take turns because the ball provider and tackler. “That’s how I discovered tips on how to run the ball, tips on how to make guys miss,” Robinson stated.

However life was about to vary for the Robinson household. As Timothy, 11, sat on a chair in his grandmother’s home, he hunched over in ache. A stomachache, the household thought. However as time handed and Timothy’s usually unbreakable outer shell started to crack, they rushed him to the hospital.

Nobody might put together them for what was to return. The household returned later that night time — all however one. And that’s when Robinson discovered of two phrases that might change his life perpetually: inner bleeding. He fell off his bike earlier, however he was positive. He was positive! Robinson thought. But, he by no means requested why or how he misplaced his brother. All he knew was Timothy was gone, and no clarification would change that truth.

“I took all the things extra severely after that,” Robinson stated. He recalled his conversations with Timothy, how they swore they might make it out. That’s when Robinson made a promise: I’ll make it out … for each of us. 

Out of the darkness, ‘Shoelace’ was born

Robinson couldn’t outrun his loss or the helpless feeling inside. However he might outrun practically any child on the soccer discipline. Robinson placed on his cleats, took a snap at quarterback, and bolted upfield. He’s on the 30, the 20, the ten, landing! That’s not an unusual prevalence for uber-athletic gamers, particularly on the Pee Wee stage.

What is unusual was how Robinson did it. As he darted downfield, his shoelaces bounced with every explosive step. Whereas each different participant was lacing up earlier than the sport, Robinson merely slipped his cleats on and stepped on the grass. And thus, “Shoelace” was born. His coach and household did all the things they might to maintain his footwear from flying off; they put wristbands over them, used athletic tape, and even rolled his socks over them. Nothing labored. So, they lastly gave in. In any case, “If it ain’t broke, don’t repair it.”

Robinson was quick, however he wasn’t complacent. He would bind a tire to his waist and dash within the yard. He’d race automobiles on the road. And in highschool, Robinson spent his Friday nights operating. Nevertheless, as a freshman, he was ineligible to play soccer, and temptations grew.

“What you may not know is I wasn’t even the very best athlete in my neighborhood however occurred to be one of many ones who made it out,” Robinson defined. “Why? Selections. … It wasn’t straightforward the place I got here from. However what made it potential have been my two dad and mom, who had nothing and gave all the things.”

Robinson made the precise decisions off the sector, and his onerous work was rewarded. He earned the beginning varsity QB job as a sophomore and by no means relinquished it. He carried Deerfield Seashore Excessive College to the state semifinals and the third spherical in his remaining two seasons.

When the blades of grass lastly settled on his highschool profession, Robinson totaled 4,784 passing yards, 44 passing touchdowns, 1,132 dashing yards, and 13 dashing scores. However the Florida native’s abilities weren’t restricted to the gridiron. In 2008, he completed third within the 100m on the Florida 4A Monitor and Discipline State Championships and was a member of the 4x100m champion relay workforce. Oh, yeah, and his footwear have been nonetheless untied.

From Deerfield Seashore to Ann Arbor

Robinson was a scorching commodity on the recruiting path. He obtained a four-star billing, with Ohio State, Georgia, and Florida eager for his signature. But, behind the scenes, issues weren’t straightforward for Robinson. He was “self-conscious” about his upbringing in rural Florida. Consequently, he held his recruiting visits from his grandparents’ home.

Though a number of high-profile packages have been onerous to disregard, Michigan made Robinson really feel most at dwelling. However there was one drawback. The Wolverines solely provided Robinson a scholarship to play defensive again — a place he hadn’t practiced since his freshman 12 months. Robinson didn’t waver, turning down the proposal. Michigan well prolonged Robinson a brand new supply — this time to line up below middle in Ann Arbor. Supply accepted.

It’s the night time earlier than Week 1. In-state Western Michigan is coming to city. Head coach Wealthy Rodriguez walks his gamers to the stadium and tells them, “Go searching. That is the place the place you may make your goals come true. … Select a spot on this stadium, sit down, and simply take a couple of minutes to ascertain your self out on that discipline. Shut your eyes and visualize your self doing one thing particular on the market tomorrow.”

Robinson knew precisely the place he would go: straight to the highest. He made the 98-row climb, rotated, and marveled on the largest soccer stadium within the nation. “It was essentially the most lovely sight I’d ever seen,” Robinson reminisced. However Rodriguez didn’t ship the gamers into the stands to absorb the surroundings. Robinson sat down and envisioned himself on the sector. He was solely the second-string QB, however he thought to himself, “If you happen to by some means get a shot within the opener, be particular. Do one thing wonderful!”

Credit score: Gregory Shamus/Getty Photos

“LOOK AT THE SPEED. SEE YA.” As play-by-play announcer Jim Brandstatter’s voice echoed by the TV, the Massive Home erupted. Rodriguez threw Robinson in with 4 minutes left within the first quarter. The true freshman was so nervous that his first snap resulted in a false begin as solely the left sort out heard him yell hike.

Robinson returned to the huddle and known as the play. He lined up within the shotgun formation, made positive the offense was set, after which … wait, what’s the decision? The middle snaps the ball, and Robinson fumbles it. Forgetting the play is unhealthy sufficient — forgetting to catch the ball solely provides insult to damage. However the play isn’t over. In actual fact, damaged performs are the place superior athletes shine. And boy, did Robinson shine.

He picked up the ball, darted to the precise, made a person miss, in the reduction of to the left, accelerated upfield, and outran three defenders for the 43-yard landing. That one play was a microcosm of Robinson’s journey. Life occurred. He forgot the play and dropped the ball. However he didn’t hand over. He picked it up, and as Robinson has achieved since childhood, he ran with it.

Collegiate stardom attracts undesirable consideration

Though Robinson remained the backup QB for the remainder of the season, he noticed motion in each contest. That have proved invaluable, as in 2010, he turned the unquestioned starter. And as he did in highschool, Robinson by no means regarded again. In solely the second begin of his collegiate profession, Robinson led a surprising comeback over Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame, setting Michigan’s single-game whole offense file within the course of (502).

Kelly later said, “Essentially the most dynamic participant we performed towards, and it’s not even shut, is Denard Robinson.” The season was a blur for Robinson, very similar to he was on the sector for opposing defenses. He turned the primary participant in NCAA historical past to throw and rush for 1,500 yards in the identical season. Moreover, Robinson set the NCAA season file for dashing yards by a quarterback (1,702), broke Drew Brees’ Massive Ten file for whole offensive yards (4,272), gained Massive Ten Participant of the 12 months, and completed sixth within the Heisman Trophy voting.

Robinson reached the height of his athletic profession. You couldn’t activate sports activities channels with out watching certainly one of his highlights. He was on prime of the school soccer world. Most athletes would do something to be in that place. However what society usually forgets is celebrity athletes are individuals too.

“I’m a small-town man. I wasn’t on the lookout for any particular therapy or fame,” Robinson stated. “I type of simply needed to make individuals completely happy and greet everybody with a smile and signify Michigan as finest I might.”

Robinson wasn’t overly comfy with the eye he obtained, however he managed. Nevertheless, one interplay affected him greater than some other. One night time, he drove dwelling from workforce research corridor and parked his automotive exterior his condo. As he opened his automotive door, a person jumped out of a automotive behind him and begged for some autographs. At first, it shocked Robinson, however he signed the gadgets and instructed him by no means to try this once more. But it surely wasn’t till later that the incident soaked in. A person knew the place and after I had research corridor, waited till I acquired out, and adopted me dwelling. 

“That incident actually modified all the things for me at Michigan,” Robinson remembered. “After that, I used to be continuously wanting over my shoulder, nervous about who may be leaping out subsequent. And I didn’t even inform my dad and mom or brothers about it as a result of I knew they might’ve been actually, actually nervous for me.

“At one level, issues acquired so loopy that I couldn’t even go to class anymore. Like I actually had certainly one of my professors come as much as me in personal and ask me to cease exhibiting up as a result of my merely being current had change into an excessive amount of of a distraction. There’d be this chatter within the room, or individuals could be continuously coming as much as me or no matter. And the professor had simply had sufficient.”

Robinson’s Michigan profession takes a flip

Regardless of the Wolverines going 7-6 after a 5-7 marketing campaign, Michigan fired Rodriguez, taking his unfold offense and perception in Robinson with him. That left Shoelace in a tough state of affairs. “Wealthy Rod was one of many few coaches that gave me an opportunity to play as a quarterback on the following stage.” However after speaking to his dad and mom, brother, and highschool coach, Robinson determined to stay it out in Ann Arbor: “That is my household — my dwelling now.”

With Rodriguez out, in got here Brady Hoke. Robinson’s numbers fell in a brand new pro-style offense that didn’t favor his talent set. Nonetheless, the workforce loved immense success, concluding the 12 months with an 11-2 file. The file was spectacular, however how they acquired there was much more so.

Within the remaining regular-season match of the 12 months, the Wolverines hosted bitter rival Ohio State. Robinson led Michigan to a 40-34 victory, this system’s first over the Buckeyes since 2004. Over a month later, Robinson and Co. defeated No. 17 Virginia Tech 23-20 in extra time within the Sugar Bowl. It was Michigan’s first main BCS bowl recreation victory since one other all-time nice QB to don the Blue and Maize: Tom Brady (1999).

At this level, the arrow appeared to solely level up for Robinson. Two years in the past was full of private success. A 12 months in the past was full of workforce success. So, it’s straightforward to see what number of believed his senior marketing campaign would see a wedding of the 2. However life occurred.

The damage that modified all the things

In Week 8, Michigan made the trek to Nebraska. Down 7-6 with 3:51 left within the second quarter, Robinson sprinted out to the left and dove for the primary down — the most expensive first down of his profession. He landed awkwardly, forcing all his physique weight onto his proper arm and hand. The crushing contact prompted injury, however a Nebraska participant by accident stepped on Robinson, exacerbating the preliminary blow.

Perhaps it was a stinger; it shouldn’t be too unhealthy. The following day, Shoelace was met with phrases that no athlete desires to listen to: Extreme nerve injury … This will likely not go away … You could not ever be the identical once more.”

The game that might assist him maintain his promise to his brother was now threatening to go away him mere months away from the NFL draft. Whereas Robinson finally obtained clearance to play a number of weeks later, he couldn’t grip or throw a soccer correctly. Thus, as a substitute of lacking the remainder of the season, Robinson switched to an RB/WR hybrid position to help the workforce.

Regardless of his damage, he managed to generate yet one more 1,000+ rushing-yard marketing campaign (his third straight). Robinson left Michigan with 10,745 whole yards and 91 whole touchdowns. His 4,495 profession dashing yards eclipsed the earlier NCAA mark set by West Virginia signal-caller Pat White (2005-08).

Robinson’s subsequent cease was the Senior Bowl … as a large receiver. Though his outing was suboptimal, with many scouts and analysts giving him damaging grades, Robinson nonetheless couldn’t really feel his pinkie and ring finger in his proper hand. Regardless, the Michigan star earned yet one more invite, this time to Indianapolis for the NFL Mix … once more as a receiver.

Robinson’s up-and-down NFL profession

At 6’0″ and 199 kilos with a 36 1/2″ vertical and 4.43 40-yard sprint, Robinson’s athletic profile was elite. However his damage historical past and uncertainty round his NFL place prompted concern. So, Robinson unsurprisingly fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars within the fifth spherical of the 2013 NFL Draft. When the cardboard made its strategy to the rostrum, there was lastly clarification on Robinson’s place — type of. “The Jacksonville Jaguars choose Denard Robinson, operating again, Michigan.”

Nevertheless, the workforce categorized Shoelace as an offensive weapon, anticipating to make the most of him as RB, WR, kick returner, and even a Wildcat QB. That offseason, Robinson bulked up and added 15 kilos to face up to the pains of his new place. Because the third RB on the depth chart, he spent his inaugural NFL season driving the pine and adapting. However in his second 12 months, Robinson’s quantity was known as.

Credit score: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports activities

An damage sidelined starter Toby Gerhart for Week 7, thrusting Robinson into the first-team lineup. Shoelace’s first NFL begin mirrored his collegiate opener, giving followers hope for an electrical future. He floored the Cleveland Browns for 127 yards and one landing on 22 carries, leading to Jacksonville’s first win for the reason that earlier season. Robinson remained a stable contributor for six weeks and seemingly had the RB1 position locked down. However life had different plans.

Robinson suffered a foot sprain, touchdown him on the injured reserve and ending his season three video games early. Was it the added weight that prompted his foot to offer out? Perhaps it was the rise in workload? Or was Shoelace’s origin story the perpetrator? The reply probably lies someplace within the center. Both method, Robinson’s damage and stifled play towards the tip of the 12 months prompted the Jags to pick out Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon within the second spherical of the 2015 NFL Draft.

As fast as Robinson rose to the highest of the depth chart, he was pushed down. A knee sprain the next 12 months dealt the ultimate blow to Robinson’s NFL profession. He missed a number of video games and by no means resembled the lightning-quick runner that tortured defenses only some years in the past.

Metaphorical dying, precise start

Robinson obtained tryouts with the Chicago Bears and New York Jets in 2017, however nothing materialized. For a fifth-round choose that switched positions, Robinson reveled in reasonable success. On 263 carries, he produced 1,058 yards and 5 TDs, including an additional 47 receptions, 310 receiving yards, seven kickoff returns, and 155 return yards. Nonetheless, Shoelace couldn’t assist however really feel dissatisfied.

“If I don’t get damage in that Nebraska recreation … I by no means change positions. I trip or die as a quarterback into the league.” Robinson described. “That’s the trustworthy reality. I used to be dedicated to creating a reputation for myself within the NFL as a QB, and turning heads, and lighting up the scoreboard, similar to I did at Michigan.”

Nonetheless, issues don’t at all times go to plan. The whole lot shall be okay ultimately. And if it’s not okay, it’s not the tip. Life occurs — that’s not at all times a damaging. Robinson discovered this lesson firsthand.

“On the time, I used to be going forwards and backwards to tryouts, seeking to show to groups I might nonetheless play — mainly grinding like loopy, however with nothing to point out for my efforts,” Robinson stated. “That entire course of — it wore me down, each bodily and mentally. Then my son [Denard Xavier Robinson Jr.] arrived and put all the things in perspective.”

After shedding Timothy and realizing his potential on the sector, Robinson thought soccer was all the things. However when his son was born, soccer took a again seat. Had he been within the league, he most likely would’ve missed his first steps, his first phrases. However Robinson didn’t — he was capable of be current and there for each new milestone.

Robinson’s profession renaissance and path ahead

In 2018, Robinson took one final stab at knowledgeable soccer profession, signing with the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Soccer (AAF) for the 2019 season. However on April 1, 2019, he was positioned on injured reserve, and the league ceased operations later that month.

Shoelace lastly put his taking part in days behind him and set his eyes on a future in teaching. He spent the 2019 season as an offensive analyst and particular groups assistant at Jacksonville College till this system was discontinued the next 12 months.

In 2020, he rejoined the Jaguars as an offensive high quality management coach earlier than pivoting to the entrance workplace as a school scouting assistant in 2021. After the season, Robinson returned to the place his soccer profession started: Michigan. This previous February, the Wolverines employed him as their new Assistant Director of Participant Personnel.

Robinson embodies the quote: “It’s not what occurs to you that determines how far you’ll go in life; it’s the way you deal with what occurs to you.” Robinson saved his promise to Timothy it doesn’t matter what life threw at him. He made it out. He offered for his household. And now, he will get to boost his son in an atmosphere larger than his. However Robinson didn’t cease there. He blazed a path for future generations to observe. The particular half? It doesn’t require shoelaces.

James Fragoza is a Author and Information Editor at Professional Soccer Community. You possibly can learn his other work here and observe him on Twitter @JamesFragoza.




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